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AHL Notebook: Western Conference loaded with talented goalies

Comrie, Kahkonen, Starrett among those on cusp of breakthrough to NHL duty

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

American Hockey League goaltending graduates continue to make an impression around the NHL.

Last week, NHL.com examined some of the top goaltending prospects in the Eastern Conference. Here is a look at some of the talent the Western Conference offers as the AHL moves into its playoff stretch drive:

 

Shane Starrett -- Bakersfield (Edmonton Oilers)

In a league full of heralded young prospects, Starrett has taken a much more low-key path, but his play continues to shine for a team that has emerged as a Calder Cup contender in the second half.

The Oilers signed the undrafted Starrett (6-foot-5, 181 pounds) on April 10, 2017 after two strong seasons at the Air Force Academy (NCAA). The 24-year-old needed a season in the ECHL with Wichita in 2017-18 but has claimed the top job with Bakersfield. Paired with rookie Stuart Skinner, a third-round pick (No. 78) by Edmonton in the 2017 NHL Draft, Starrett has started 18 of the past 22 games since Bakersfield's midseason turnaround.

Starrett, 23-4-3 in 33 games, is in a second-place tie in save percentage (.922) to go with his league-best 2.21 goals-against average.

Bakersfield won 17 consecutive games from Jan. 12 to March 1, the second-longest streak in AHL history, and Starrett earned 14 of those victories. The run took the Condors from fifth place in the Pacific Division to a seven-point division lead at 36-17-2-1. Bakersfield is fourth in the Western Conference with 75 points.

 

Kaapo Kahkonen -- Iowa (Minnesota Wild)

Kahkonen (6-2, 214) is in his first season in North America after a successful run in Finland.

Minnesota took the 22-year-old in the fourth round (No. 109) of the 2014 NHL Draft, and he led Finland's top pro league with 56 appearances and 3,275 minutes for Luuka Rauma. He was 20-23-12 with a 2.20 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Kahkonen has found the level of play and style of the AHL similar to his Liiga experience.

"I don't think there are that many big adjustments that I had to make," he said.

He is 16-11-8 with a 2.73 GAA and .909 save percentage in 35 games for Iowa. He also had a 222:22 shutout streak earlier in the season.

Coach Tim Army has paired Kahkonen with veteran Andrew Hammond, and that has helped ease Kahkonen into a heavier load. Iowa (32-18-7-5) has 76 points and is tied for second with Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) in the Central Division, nine points ahead of Texas (Dallas Stars).

"It has been a lot of fun," Kahkonen said of his first season with Iowa. "We have a good group of guys in Iowa. I think the [team] is doing a really good job in general, and obviously that helps me play well and Hammond play well. I think we have two really good goalies there, and it is obviously a strength for our team."

 

Eric Comrie -- Manitoba (Winnipeg Jets)

The Jets held on to Comrie (6-1, 175) at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, but he figures to get an NHL opportunity at some point.

A second-round pick (No. 59) in the 2013 NHL Draft, Comrie has spent four seasons developing with Manitoba. This season, he helped pull the Moose out of a poor start and put them within striking distance of a playoff spot in the congested Central Division. Manitoba (29-26-3-2), which is four points behind Texas for a playoff spot in the Central, hosts the Stars in a two-game series that starts Wednesday.

The 23-year-old leads the AHL in minutes (2,415:10) and is tied for second in games (41) behind Alex Nedeljkovic of Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes). He has faced a league-leading 1,328 shots, and his .919 save percentage is sixth-best. He is 21-15-4 with a 2.68 GAA.

 

Josef Korenar -- San Jose (San Jose Sharks)

The Sharks found Korenar (6-1, 185 pounds) as an undrafted free agent.

San Jose signed Korenar on July 13, 2017 and he played in his native Czech Republic last season.

The 21-year-old is 19-8-1 with a 2.67 GAA and .906 save percentage in 29 games.

He brought some familiarity with the North American game after spending the 2016-17 season with Lincoln (United States Hockey League). He embraced the opportunity to come to San Jose and accelerate his development in the AHL.

"I think it's better for me playing here on the smaller rink," Korenar said of the opportunity to come to North America. "I like to play here. Everything is faster."

Being in San Jose also means that the NHL and AHL teams share the Solar4America Ice at San Jose practice facility. That has provided him a chance to work with longtime NHL goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who is the goalie development coach for the Sharks, and gives Korenar plenty of one-on-one instructional time. There is also the scrutiny that comes with having Sharks management nearby to keep a close eye on prospects.

"You don't know who is going to be watching you in a practice or a game," Korenar said. "It's good for us."

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